Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays at noon on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

New time! ... Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
And always online at hoosierhistorylive.org!

You can listen to Hoosier History Live! live on the air each Saturday, or listen online at the WICR website during the broadcast on any computer with speakers, anywhere, or on a smartphone. We invite you to visit our website!

Sept. 29 show

Ancient people here - and agricultural beginnings in Indiana

Tent dwellings of eastern woodland Indians - United States.With our expanded, one-hour format, we can dig deeper (pardon the pun; the guest will be an archaeologist) with topics that have sparked great interest from listeners. So we are going to explore more aspects of the so-called "Very First Hoosiers," or ancient people who lived more than 10,000 years ago in the densely wooded forests that became the site of Indiana.

Dr. Christopher Schmidt, an archaeologist, biological anthropologist and popular University of Indianapolis faculty member, will return to share insights about these early residents - as well as fresh insights about the beginnings of agriculture.

Chris, the director of the Indiana Prehistory Laboratory at UIndy, has overseen excavations across Indiana and is credited with discovering the oldest known man-made tool in Hoosier soil. Created from the leg bone of a white-tailed deer, the tool is an awl (used for making clothes) discovered during a dig near the town of Flora in Carroll County.

This awl made from the leg of a white tail deer is 10,400 years old. It was found on a UIndy archaeological dig in 2003 in Carroll County, Indiana. Image courtesy UIndy.Chris discussed the tool, which is 10,400 years old, and other aspects of  the "Very First Hoosiers" when he was Nelson's studio guest in June.

Now he will return to share more details about the ancient Hoosiers, as well as the animal and plant life that surrounded them. Chris describes the ancient people of nearly 11,000 years ago as hunter-gatherers who ate both meat and plants.

As centuries passed, the people began to develop agriculture, a move that, according to Chris, also meant an increase in various diseases. He plans to share insights about the correlation as well as about the origin of maize in Indiana.

During our show in June, Nelson asked Chris about the relationship between the ancient people and Native Americans.

Dr. Christopher Schmidt."They were Native Americans - not culturally, but biologically," Chris replied. Their ancestors are believed to have traveled from the Bering Straits to North America, then dispersed.

Although ancient people had arrived in the future site of Indiana more than 10,000 years ago, the origin of agriculture did not begin until much later.

"The first time we've seen evidence that people manipulated plants in the Eastern Woodlands that became Indiana was about 3,000 years ago," Chris says.

The ancient people, who lived in structures similar to wigwams, initially cultivated four varieties of plants that, according to Chris, today might be dismissed as "weeds." Among them was a plant commonly known as goosefoot, including a species of it that recently has become popular in today's cuisine with its Spanish name, quinoa.

Sunflowers also were cultivated by ancient people in future Indiana. Then as now, quinoa, sunflowers and other plants were cultivated so their seeds could be eaten, according to Chris.

Conclusions about the ancient people's diet and agricultural cultivation come from analyzing a variety of sources, including fossils found in Indiana.

"I've looked at thousands of casts of teeth over the years," Chris says.

Maize.In addition to overseeing excavations in Carroll County, Chris has led digs in Monroe County (at a site not far from Oliver Winery) as well as Johnson, Jackson and Dearborn counties.

Particularly once early Native Americans began cultivating maize - a term Chris says is generally synonymous with corn - they often selected floodplains as the sites of their fields.

"Floodplains provided good ways to irrigate your crops," he explains.

He describes the maize consumed by the ancient people this way: "The actual corn they cultivated to eat was very similar, nearly identical, to the corn we eat today, except smaller."

Initially, though, the plant did not produce multiple seeds in cobs. In what Chris calls a "huge achievement," ancient people selectively bred their maize to produce cobs filled with corn kernels. "The plant in nature didn’t do that."

That accomplishment didn't originate in the future site of Indiana, but stalks of corn with cobs quickly spread across North America, including the future Hoosier state.

Excavations here also indicate the "Very First Hoosiers" eventually cultivated various types of gourds. Then as now, gourds were not eaten. Instead, they were cultivated for what Chris calls "utilitarian" purposes, including serving as water jugs.

History Mystery

Ancient people who lived more than 10,000 years ago shared the wilderness that became Indiana with various animals, some of which became extinct in the Hoosier state. They included a pig-like creature that was discussed by anthropologist Dr. Christopher Schmidt when he was a studio guest in June on Hoosier History Live!

Aerial view of the historic Athenaeum building in downtown Indianapolis, home to the Rathskeller restaurant.Although the creature, which has a snout like a pig, has long been extinct in the Midwest, it can be found in other parts of North America, as well as throughout Central and South America. The medium-sized creatures prefer to eat roots, grass, seeds and fruit. Their tusks are shaped differently than those of pigs.

Question: Name the pig-like creature found during ancient eras on the site of today's Indiana.

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

This week's prize is a gift certificate to The Rathskeller Restaurant and a pair of tickets to the Indianapolis Zoo, courtesy of Visit Indy. You will not find the meat of this particular animal on the menu at The Rathskeller, nor will you find this extinct animal at the Zoo. But there sure is a lot to savor and enjoy in Indy.    

Roadtrip: Amazing Maize at the Indiana State Museum

Children check out the combine simulator at the Amazing Maize exhibit at Indiana State Museum.Our regular Roadtripper, Chris Gahl of Visit Indy, is off this week, so a guest Roadtripper will bring us up to speed on the Amazing Maize: The Science, History and Culture of Corn exhibit, which should be your next stop after listening to this week's Hoosier History Live! show about early agriculture in Indiana.

The exhibit at the Indiana State Museum runs through March 24, 2013. According to the Indiana State Museum's website, it takes 25 corn plants per person per day to support the American way of life. This 10,000-year global genetic journey explores the relationship between people and corn, arguably the most productive domesticated plant and the greatest plant breeding achievement of all time.

You can also play an online "corny" game for kids, presented here by the Indiana State Museum. And if you're a teacher, here is a Teacher's Guide for all ages.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo and Research Services, Conner Prairie, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through Indiana Humanities. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.

Oct. 6 show

Hollywood icons Red Skelton, Robert Wise and Irene Dunne

Irene Dunne.Aside from being icons of Hollywood with links to Indiana, what could three luminaries - comedian Red Skelton, acclaimed director Robert (The Sound of Music and West Side Story) Wise and 1930s and '40s movie star Irene Dunne - have in common?

All three are the subjects of biographies written by movie historian Wes Gehring, a film professor at Ball State University who will be Nelson's guest. Wes' newest book is the just-released Robert Wise Shadowlands (Indiana Historical Society Press), a biography of  the Academy Award-winning director who was born in Winchester and grew up in Connersville.

With Wes in studio, not only will we focus on the life and career of Robert Wise (1914-2005), we also will explore the Hoosier roots and careers of Red Skelton, a native of Vincennes, and Irene Dunne, who grew up in Madison.

Wes delved into their lives in Red Skelton: The Mask Behind the Mask (IHS Press, 2008), which explores, as Wes puts it, the comedian's "hardscrabble beginnings with a shockingly dysfunctional family in southern Indiana" and Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood (Scarecrow Press, 2003). It's a look at the versatile actress who won critical acclaim for her roles in genres ranging from musicals like Show Boat (1936) to comedies (including The Awful Truth in 1937 with Cary Grant) and dramas such as I Remember Mama (1948).

Like Irene Dunne (1898-1990), Robert Wise was known for astonishing versatility, directing movies ranging from the science fiction cult classic The Day the Earth  Stood Still (1951) and the epic The Sand Pebbles (1966) starring fellow Indiana native Steve McQueen to the two musicals for which Wise won Oscars as Best Director, The Sound of Music (1965) and West Side Story (1961).

Wes Gehring at his Ball State University office, surrounded by film memorabilia.In fact, many film historians contend Wise's versatility explains why he never quite became a household name like fellow directors Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg, who are associated with specific genres.

Certainly Red Skelton (1913-1997) became a household name, achieving major stardom in movies, TV, radio and on Broadway after getting his start in vaudeville shows and, before that, on showboats that traveled the Ohio and Missouri rivers.

On his enormously popular TV series, which enjoyed a run of nearly 20 years (1951-1971), Skelton delighted audiences with the antics of characters such as "Clem Kadiddlehopper," a confused bumpkin,  and "Freddie the Freeloader," a hobo who never spoke.

Like Freddie, Skelton endured dire poverty. As Wes recounts in his biography, Skelton, the youngest of four brothers, was born two months after the death of his father. Years later, Skelton claimed his father had been a circus clown, but Wes disputes that with extensive research indicating the elder Skelton was an alcoholic grocer in Vincennes.

Although Red (real name: Richard) Skelton worked his way up to stardom, he continued to cope with, as Wes puts it, a "sometimes tragic personal life" that included three marriages, the death of his 9-year-old son from leukemia in 1958, the suicide of his second wife and his lingering bitterness at the entertainment industry after the cancellation of his TV series.

Robert Wise and Irene Dunne had more stable personal lives, although her father, a steam vessel supervisor, also died when she was a child. She had been born in Louisville, Ky., but moved with her widowed mother to Madison. In the Ohio River town, she attended St. Michael's Catholic Church, graduated from Madison High School and sang at civic gatherings.

Her talent resulted in a scholarship to study music at a conservatory in Indianapolis; eventually, she landed roles in touring stage shows.

At Connersville High School, the auditorium has been renamed in Wise's honor. In his biography of the filmmaker, Wes quotes from columns (titled "Wise Crax") he wrote for the high school newspaper. After graduation, Wise attended Franklin College. Short of money, he left school during the Depression and followed an older brother to Hollywood. One of his big breaks involved working as a film editor for Orson Welles on the classic Citizen Kane (1941).

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